Study: Switching to nicotine vapes can reverse asthma lung damage

People living with asthma tend to experience a gradual deterioration of respiratory functions as they age, and the damage only progresses faster if the patient is a smoker.  Quitting smoking is usually very challenging, even for the healthiest of individuals.  However, the added stress that comes with quitting cold-turkey can easily exacerbate the symptoms of asthmatics.  Luckily, research is now indicating that switching to a nicotine-based vapor product not only makes quitting much more effective, but it can also help to reverse or repair much of the lung damage caused by asthma attacks in the past.

A study led by Dr. Riccardo Polosa of the Respiratory Diseases and Clinical Immunology at the University of Catania, Italy, began with a small group of about twenty participants, each of whom had histories of smoking and asthma.   The project was the first of its kind for the Italian scientists, and the research has since been useful as a baseline for additional studies that have followed.

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The initial Polosa study lasted for a full two -years and is considered by many academics as groundbreaking in the field of asthma research. The findings were ultimately published in paper entitled Persisting long term benefits of smoking abstinence and reduction in asthmatic smokers who have switched to electronic cigarettes (Discovery Medicine).

Asthma patients who switch to vaping ‘gain significant health benefits’

Throughout the project, each of the participants was asked to make the switch from smoking to vaping.  Participants were given full discretion to select their favorite devices and e-liquids.  In the beginning stages, most participants chose a common cig-a-like option, but the majority would later transition to refillable “pen-like” alternatives.

The preferred nicotine strength of e-liquids ranged between 9-18 mg/ml.  Somewhat surprisingly, the most preferred flavor of e-liquid was tobacco.

Every six months, the scientists would ask each participant to come into the laboratory where the researchers would measure several biomarkers, such as asthma exacerbation rates, airway responsivity rates, comparative daily rates of smoking versus vaping, forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory flow (FEF), ACQ levels, and overall breathing and respiratory functions.  All results were then comparatively analyzed against each participant as well as for individual progress or deterioration of the related lung damage.

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Each participant was also asked every six months to complete an extensive questionnaire.  It was during this process that the researchers discovered that not all participants had successfully made a permanent transition to vaping.  Some self-reported as dual users, and a couple even relapsed completely back to smoking.  But no members of the group were rejected from the trial.

After two years, the Polosa team discovered that the vaping-only group experienced remarkable progress in each of the biomarker categories.  Dual users even witnessed a considerable amount of progress, usually dependent on their personal vaping versus smoking habits.  Sadly, the smoking-only participants continued to see a gradual decline in nearly all respiratory functions. In the published findings, the researchers make the following statements.

“Emerging evidence now indicates that asthmatic smokers who quit or reduce substantially tobacco consumption by switching to ECs use are likely to gain significant health benefits. In a recent retrospective study, regular EC use was associated with significant improvement in lung function and asthma symptom scores…
“By substantially reducing the number of cigarettes smoked per day and exposure to their numerous hazardous toxicants, e-Cigarettes may not only improve asthma symptoms and pulmonary function but may also confer an overall health advantage in smokers with asthma…Therefore, e-Cigarette use in asthmatic smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit should be exploited as a safer alternative approach to harm-reversal (i.e., specific reversal of asthma-related outcomes) and, in general, to harm-reduction (i.e., overall reduction of smoke-related diseases).”

Due to the rather small size of the initial control group, the scientist publicly acknowledge that more research is required before any definitive conclusions can be ascertained.  However, asthma patients who smoke might want to consider visiting an online support group – perhaps within the vaping community - to gain additional insights shared by the real-life experiences of asthmatic vapers.

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(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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